Hortense Valpincon as a Child, 1869 by Edgar Degas

DEGAS HAD A SPECIAL SYMPATHY for children and there are a number of testimonials to the fact that, gruff as he often was with adults, he enjoyed the company of the sons and daughters of his friends as well as his own nieces and nephews. It was probably on one of his trips to Normandy where he often visited the Paul Valpingons that he painted this charming and sentimental portrait of Hortense.

The artist has contrasted the little girl in her simple white pinafore and hat with the richly, brightly colored designs of the cloth and stuffs on the table. The patterned background on the wall repeats in a milder key the colors and shapes of the foreground, while the natural pose of the child is seized with a seeming effortlessness. As usual at this period, the head is carefully modeled and the face delicately drawn. Perhaps Degas left it purposely a little unfinished for there are light lines of correction along the right profile of the figure which show that he had another idea for this area of the canvas. Many years later Degas modeled a large bust of Hortense Valpincon which unfortunately was poorly cast and exists today only through descriptions and a casual sketch in one of his letters.